Trip Start Jan 12, 2003
Trip End Dec 20, 2003

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Tuesday, May 6, 2003


The town of Hoi An rests at the mid-point of Vietnam's long coast and the local government there has done a fine job of keeping its historical character in place. Small quaint streets are still lined with original merchant homes that have now made the transition into cafes, shops, and museums. Take away the modern retail environment and you can almost still picture the European and Asian merchants calling on this once very important and busy port town. It has also become well known as the clothing capital of Vietnam and nearly every tourist fills their bags (some even have to buy 1 or 2 new ones) with tailor-made clothing. From shorts, suits, evening gowns, or even tuxedos, if you fancy it, they'll make it. Tempted as we were, we passed on the opportunity. Backpack space comes at a premium and shipping it home is not a cheap alternative. All those boxes back home in storage will have something left for us to wear when we get home, right?

North to Hue. Once the capital of Vietnam, and still home to the ruins of the old Royal Palace, Hue is also known for its Royal Cuisine. Let it be known that we like to eat. What would traveling be without all of the meals filled with new smells and new tastes? Regional cuisine is always a target for us and this would be no exception. So, as the story goes, one of the kings of Vietnam was quite exquisite (or pompous?) when it came to his meals. Certainly not the kind of man to head to the local buffet, he expected each part of the meal to be served from a different servant. His tea was to be made from the morning dew collected from the plants around the palace. He never wanted to have the same meal twice in a year and the presentation of the food was as important as the taste. This made for a lot of work and a lot of recipes, some of which have survived until today. So we indulged, broke the budget a bit, and headed to a local restaurant which specializes in the Royal Cuisine. The food was fairly tasty, but the presentation was much better. The water we drank was not the morning dew. We showed mercy to the chefs and allowed them to live.

Final stop - Hanoi. Getting there would be lots of fun. There isn't a lot to see from Hue to Hanoi so your options are a night train, a night bus, or an airplane. Being gluttons for punishment and pinching our pennies, we opted for the bus. Twelve hours, overnight, on an air-conditioned tourist bus - well, sort of. There were 5 tourists. 30 locals were used to fill the seats left by what is a dwindling, off-season, SARS frightened, tourist base in Vietnam. The trip went well, with only a few exceptions. Considering it is typically non-existent for them in everyday life, we are convinced that the locals don't understand the concept of air-conditioning. So, apparently, it is only us soft Westerners who know that open windows and air-conditioning don't get along. A non-smoking bus is a misnomer in Vietnam. We were told that something like 70% of the male population smokes - we believe it is closer to 90. 12 hours without a cigarette could get nasty for a few of them, and so they spent the evening trying to sneak a puff, eventually giving up when they passed out from fatigue. Then there was the watermelon sale at the bathroom break. And it must have been a darn good one, because everyone returned to the bus with at least 2. And lest we forget the gentleman behind Jon who, having a bit too much to drink at dinner, spent the entire evening passing in and out of consciousness, crashing into the seat back, and tossing his hands about Jon's head until the climatic conclusion when he placed his head between his legs and puked all over the floor. Yep, it was a warm, smoky, puking, watermelon rollin' good time, all the way to Hanoi.

Hanoi's traditional look and communist roots was indeed a contrast from the more modern and ex-capitalist city of Saigon. We wandered the streets and took in the sights. We even made the trip to Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum to see the man who inspired and started this crazy place. There he was, Uncle Ho, in all his glory and looking quite good after so many years. We made a two-day trip to Ha Long Bay and took in some of the most beautiful coastal scenery in the world. And then it occurred to us. Due to SARS, we had made the decision to postpone China until later in life and head to Australia. The chapter on Southeast Asia was about to be closed. Seemed like we had just got here yesterday. So we began to say goodbye to sweaty days and sweaty nights. Goodbye to $8 accommodation, $1 meals, and 10 cent beers. Adieu to rough roads, crazy drivers, and our new found culture shock. Farewell to beautiful jungles and tropical beaches. So long to so many friendly faces and those that only pretend to be - yes, we've got you figured out by now!

We are headed down under, below the equator, to a land that we both wanted to visit someday, but we would have never guessed it would have been now. Funny how things work. So, hello again to western food - even Vegemite. Hello to driving on the left side. Hello to the Kangaroos and the Wallabies. Hello to the Aborigines. We're looking forward to meeting you Australia, but that will have to wait...

Until Next Time,
Jon and Liz
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